About thyroid surgery
A thyroid surgeon is a doctor who performs surgeries on patients who have thyroid and parathyroid conditions. Thyroid surgery is usually performed to treat thyroid nodules, an overactive thyroid gland, multinodular goitres and thyroid cancer.
Thyroid surgery is a commonly performed procedure used to treat problems of the thyroid gland. There are two types: partial thyroidectomy, which involves removal of a portion of the thyroid and total thyroidectomy, which involves removal of the entire organ.
But what is the thyroid anyway and what does it do that makes it so important?
Firstly, it’s part of the endocrine system, a group of glands that work together to keep the body’s internal operations in balance. Glands, for their part, are simply small organs that secrete hormones, chemicals critical to the body’s ability to function.
The thyroid secretes three key hormones: thyroxine, triiodothyronine and calcitonin. The first two are responsible for regulating energy use, metabolism and protein creation. Calcitonin acts to lower the level of calcium in the blood – opposing the effects of parathyroid hormone.
The most common reason a thyroid surgeon would need to remove your thyroid is because it has developed a cancerous growth. This is the primary explanation for thyroidectomies. Goitres are another common reason. So is the common condition known as hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid.
Hyperthyroidism is characterised by symptoms such as profuse sweating, diarrhoea, muscle weakness, increased appetite, sensitivity to heat, sleep disruptions, weight loss, irritability, neck goitres, protruding eyes and heart palpitations. It is caused by the overproduction of the thyroid’s primary hormones and usually results from the autoimmune condition Graves’ disease.
Whilst thyroid surgery is a safe and effective procedure there are risks. Your thyroid surgeon should explain to you that there are potential complications from a thyroidectomy, from bleeding and calcium deficiencies to nerve damage and voice change. Overall these risks are low and are usually around 1-2% depending on the reason thyroid surgery is needed.
Patients who require total thyroidectomy will develop hypothyroidism after surgery. The opposite of hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism symptoms include weight gain, cold sensitivity, baldness, memory problems, slowed heart rate and fatigue. This condition requires that patients who have total thyroidectomy require lifelong daily thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Those who undergo total thyroidectomies must undergo this treatment.
Patients who have partial thyroidectomy or hemithyroidectomy may need thyroid hormone replacement therapy – depending on whether their remaining thyroid tissue is able to produce sufficient thyroid hormone. The underlying reason surgery is needed will also affect whether those who have hemithyroidectomy will need thyroid hormone replacement. Factors such as co-existing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis will also increase this probability.
Thyroid surgery is a relatively safe and effective procedure, so your thyroid surgeon should be done with your operation quite quickly – within about an two hours for a total thyroidectomy. The majority of patients will stay in hospital for one or two night after the procedure depending on patient and disease factors. A longer stay may be needed for more complex cases.
If you have questions or concerns about thyroid problems see your local doctor who will arrange for you to see a thyroid surgeon.